As the school year comes to a close, many parents are faced with the task of finding child care for the summer or deciding if they should take a chance and let their children stay home alone for the first time. Whether for a few minutes or a few hours, all parents will face the dilemma-is my child old enough to stay home alone? Many state or local laws, do not list a specific minimum age. Instead, like the Ohio Revised Code, say that parents are responsible for providing proper care and supervision for their children. So, the real question isn’t so much one of age, but one of your child’s maturity and readiness and your ability to plan for safety, emergencies and activities. There is no magic age at which children develop the maturity and good sense needed to stay alone. However, there are some signs that your child may be ready.
First, your child should indicate a desire and willingness to stay alone. Children who are easily frightened or who don’t want to stay alone are probably not ready to do so. Your child should also be showing signs that he or she can be responsible, is aware of the needs of others, and can think about options and make decisions independently. Children who are able to get ready for school on time, solve problems on their own, complete homework and household chores with a minimum of supervision, and remember to tell you where they are going, have some of the skills they will need to care for themselves. For many children, these abilities begin to appear between the ages of ten and twelve.
If your child shows these signs, you may want to consider letting your child stay home alone. However, you must also think about several other factors. These are:
-The neighborhood in which you live
-The availability of adults nearby
-How long your child will be alone
If your neighborhood is unsafe, if there are no adults nearby to call in case of an emergency, or if your child must remain alone for a very long time, it is best to continue to use some form of child care even if your child seems ready to stay alone. Remember, children, like adults are all different. Some are more independent than others, and some are more fearful, despite your care and preparation.
If you and your child decide that you are ready to stay home alone, the next step is giving your child some guidelines, knowledge, and training. Involve your children in decisions and discussions that affect them. If children understand the reasons for the rules and participate in developing rules, they are more likely to follow them.
For more tips and information on this topic, check out the complete OSU Extension fact sheet at http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/pdf/5321.pdf
Adapted from Ohio State University Extension Factsheet, HYG-5321-10, Home Alone: Is My Child Old Enough? http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/pdf/5321.pdf
Author: Kathy Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Butler County.
Reviewer: Donna Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County